YEARS 1975 - 1995
History of the Orange Blossom Gardens
Property Owners’ Association, Inc. 1975 - 1995
The officers and members of the Board of Directors of the ORANGE BLOSSOM GARDENS PROPERTY OWNERS' ASSOCIATION, INC (POA) take great pleasure in presenting this publication as a part of the celebration of our twentieth year of representing the property owners of our community.
It is with pride that we present the history of the P.O.A. and a report of our achievements over the past 20 years be assured we will continue to pursue the protection of the rights of residents in the years to come as we adhere to the purposes of our charter and bylaws.
We take this opportunity to acknowledge the participation of our membership in our endeavors which has made it possible to achieve our goals. Many members have volunteered their time to serve as officers, members of the board of directors, on our standing and special committees, and in the distribution of our bulletin.
Our gratitude also extends to the faithful members who have been the keystone of our efforts over the years by giving us both their moral and financial support.
If it were possible, we would like to list the name of each and every member who contributed their time and efforts to sustain our potential for realization of our objectives Space is limited, but our appreciation is unlimited.
We also extend our recognition of and congratulations to the developer for his vision and subsequent success in providing the many recreational facilities and beautiful community in which we are proud to live out our retirement years. We hope we have succeeded in stirring the memories of our earlier residents and in providing information not otherwise known by our newer ones.
It is our hope all will enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed researching and compiling it for you. Before there could be an Orange Blossom Gardens Property Owners Association, there had to be an Orange Blossom Gardens. The first undertaking in development of the area by Orange Blossom Hills, Inc. (the corporate name of the developer) was the sale of lots north in Marion County on Highway 27-441
The development of Orange Blossom Gardens in the pastureland on the east side of the highway in Lake County was their second venture. This new enterprise included the sale of homes as well as lots. Prospective buyers could view models set up on Aloha, Owen, Paradise, Teakwood and Vermont streets. They could choose to buy a model home already situated on a lot or to order any model to be placed on an existing or planned lot.
Both single and doublewide homes were available from various manufacturers in the beginning. Then, to facilitate servicing, the corporation elected to feature a single manufacturer and they chose Fleetline. A model village was set up on Vermont Avenue along-side the Chapel of All Faiths. A variety of models with a broad range in both size and cost was offered.
The sale of manufactured homes was discontinued in the late 1980s/early 1990s in favor of site-built homes. A mixture of both can be seen on either side of the highway. Currently, buyers may select a site-built home or a villa.
Al Tarrson and Harold S. Schwartz were partners in the development of the Gardens which began in the late 1960s. It wasn't until 1983, however, that Mr. Schwartz assumed an active role when he bought out Mr. Tarrson who wanted to retire. He moved to the Gardens and resided at One Tarrson Boulevard until he moved to a villa in the newer development on the west side of the highway. His foresight resulted in the expansion of our community to provide churches, businesses and medical professionals for the convenience of all residents of the area.
Harry and Louise Miller were settled in by Christmas 1969 as the first residents of the Gardens. They remained the sole residents until April 1970. It has been reported that the Millers frequently had to run off cows wanting to graze in their yard; and Harry often was seen shagging golf balls on Vermont.
There are streets in the Gardens which were named for the developers, members of the developers’ family, friends, employees, and family members of employees. Other street names vary from unit to unit. You will find streets named for trees in one. In another you will find them named for flowers. In yet another, streets bear the names of famous golf courses.
What the first residents lacked in numbers they gained in the spirit of a small neighborhood. With less automobile traffic than we now are accustomed to, both two- and three-wheel bicycles were very much in evidence. It was not uncommon to see a group of 50 bikers pedaling about the neighborhood.
Lawn chairs were carried to the top of the bill which was to become the site of the Orange Blossom Hills Golf and Country Club. This vantage point provided neighbors with a view of nighttime rocket or shuttle launches while enjoying one of many get-togethers.
Residents played golf in what is now known as Hilltop but was then affectionately referred to as "the cow pasture." Golf balls were retrieved from the water hole to be sold and lost again.
Dancing was and remains one of the most popular recreations enjoyed by our early residents. Music was provided by talented local musicians. There also are many square dancers among us, and line dancing has become very popular in recent years.
In the beginning, recreational pursuits were organized by resident volunteers who continued to serve after a recreation staff was hired. Some still serve in a number of capacities.
Mail originally was delivered to a “mail room” in the recreation center club house. When the number of residents outnumbered the 69 available mail slots, the post office advised it would discontinue delivery until larger facilities were provided.
A trailer set up on the recreation center parking lot was used until the developer, under an agreement with the post office, built a permanent facility on LaGrande Boulevard. With continued population growth, two additional facilities had to be built - - one on Paradise and one in Unit Nine. (The trailer then became the first home of our Channel Two.)
The first mailing address was R. R. 2, Leesburg and included the lot and unit numbers of residents. With annexation into the Town of Lady Lake, addresses were changed to use of street names with hyphenated unit and lot numbers.
Still another change occurred when the county's 9-1-1 system went into effect. House numbers were substituted for the combination of unit and lot numbers and we were given a new zip code.
To meet the annexation requirement for contiguous land, the property owners between the development and the town had to agree to annexation of their properties as well.
All but 14 of the 600-plus residents of Units 1, 2, 3, and parts of 4 and 5 voted against annexing. Subsequent efforts of the developer to induce them to annex have been unsuccessful.
The developer has proposed de-annexation in recent years, but residents voted their preference to remain in the town.
Early stages of expansion saw the name of the development changed to the Villages of Lady Lake. With expansion into Sumter County, it was changed to the Villages of Lake-Sumter.
To many residents, the disappointing aspect of the changes was not only the loss of the original familiar name but also the loss of the orange blossom symbol/logo on the water tower.
Since the P.O.A. took its name from the name of the original development (which is how the subdivision is recorded) no change of our name has ever been contemplated.
Management’s first publication (1973) was entitled THE ORANGE BLOSSOM SPECIAL with much of its contents devoted to the comings and goings of residents. It was replaced by THE ORANGE BLOSSOM SUN and a large section was required to provide a schedule of the many recreational activities available to residents.
In keeping with the present name of the development, the publication now is known as THE VILLAGES SUN. Two sections entitled THE TRI-COUNTY SUN have been added and their circulation and news coverage include the counties of Lake, Sumter and Marion.
Home delivery was attempted in 1989 and 1990. For a time it was as insert in THE (LEESBUEG) DAILY COMMERCIAL. With a change of printer and format, it now is distributed to residents every Friday by direct mail. Copies have always been available at a number of drop-offs throughout our community.
A closed circuit TV channel called WHEEL was introduced in 1981. Now known as The VILLAGES NEWS NETWORK (VNN), it features taped segments of area news, special events, and interviews with new residents, resident participation in recreational activities, and editorials by VNN staff and management representatives.
Early residents were plagued with the poor quality of the water. Problems arose, too when meters were introduced and the usage allowance was changed. The Public Service Commission (PSC) regulated rates at that time but, with the sale of Sunbelt. Utilities, it no longer has jurisdiction.
The first security force consisted of one guard and one relief guard, and they had the use of a “Police" Jeep. Prior to annexation, residents also looked to the services of the Lake County Sheriff for security.
Residents had to be cautioned a number of times about feeding the seagulls. It was felt their aggressiveness would reduce the fish population in Paradise Lake. It also was thought their presence was responsible for the disappearance of the egrets.
The area must have been considered a good dumping ground for cats because it was overrun with them at one time.
An unusual and pleasing wildlife sighting in the area was that of the fox squirrel. With advancing development, much of the wildlife disappeared but gradually has returned. Foxes are known to take up residence in the crawl spaces of homes. The least desirable inhabitants of the area are snakes; and we have to endure the onslaught of love hugs twice a year.
A Club House Committee of members and non-members used the $15 club house rental fee for the purchase of items which were considered to be beneficial for the use of all residents.
A Solo Club (now called the Singles Club) was one of the first social groups formed. Today there are many fraternal and other organized groups available to residents with similar interests.
Robberies were frequent due to the accessibility from Highway 27-441, and the first resident l.D. stickers were initiated as a result.
Use of golf carts on streets and highways is prohibited by state law, but local governments may grant approval in specific instances. Annexation placed our streets under the jurisdiction of the town and approval for street use was granted in 1985.
HISTORY OF THE P.O.A.
A group of concerned property owners met to consider options available to them which would provide an improved means for solving individual and/or group problems with the developer. The meeting was held in the home of A. J. “Jack” and “Dessie” Howard at 1008 Vermont. (Dessie's daughter, Petty Livingston, and her husband, David, live there today and are P.O.A. members.)
The result of that meeting was the chartering of the ORANGE BLOSSOM GARDENS PROPERTY OWNERS’ ASSOCIATION, INC. as a non-profit corporation on November 20 1975.
The objectives of the original charter and bylaws were to promote good will, friendship and understanding among residents, and to assist the developer in establishing a community which would be beneficial to both the developer and property owners.
They were amended at a Later date to broaden these objectives to include support of legislation at all levels of government, which protect the rights of residents, and to keep residents advised regarding any legislation which would affect their retirement lifestyle and property investment.
Another amendment brought the P.O.A. into conformity with Chapter 723 which designates a home/property owner association in subdivisions as the legal representative of residents. It also grants the right of first refusal or purchase of recreational facilities and/or other property serving the subdivision in the event the owner/developer offers them for sale.
An unprecedented attempt was made to take over the P.O.A. with a slate of candidates opposed to the continuation of our efforts in behalf of our residents. This attempt was undertaken by residents who become members for the two months of November and December and whose dues were paid for by the developer.
We allowed a vote count of both slates, and the result was an overwhelming defeat of their candidates. To avoid any possibility of a future assault, our bylaws were amended now require nominees to be members for no Less than one year.
Some of the residents who were involved in the take-over attempt then formed the Villages Homeowners Association (V.H.A).
The P.O.A. was formed when only 13 units were planned for development. Therefore, membership necessarily was confined to the property owners in these units. Bylaws amendments adopted in 1994 extended membership eligibility to all property owners in the development as it expands.
Membership has long been open to property owners who are employees of the developer. To avoid any possibility of a conflict of interest, however, employees may not hold elective office.
Original annual membership dues were $12 per household and payment of $1 per month was permitted. Dues later were reduced to 6 per household which we have been able to maintain by the use of advertising to defray the cost of printing our bulletin.
All owners of a household membership are carried on our membership rolls. Each member household is entitled to one vote at meetings scheduled for elections and/or adoption of amendments to our charter and bylaws.
Elections are held at our annual meeting in November. Amendments to the charter and bylaws may be scheduled at any meeting as changes are deemed necessary.
Proper notice of these meetings is printed in our bulletin. A thumbnail sketch of each candidate is provided prior to the election. Proposed bylaws amendments are printed in the bulletin prior to the meeting scheduled for their adoption. A ballot (or proxy) is provided in each instance.
The voting member of the household unit may cast a vote by ballot or may vote by proxy if unable to attend the meeting.
Annual renewal of dues originally was based on the month in which residents became members. With the growth of our membership, we converted to renewal on a calendar year basis. New residents are permitted to join in any month during the first year of residence at a pro-rated 50¢ per month.
New, renewed or reinstated members are accepted and membership cards issued at any meeting except at annual meetings in November or special meetings at which a quorum vote is required.
Membership also can be attained by using the form on the back cover of our bulletin and mailing it as directed with remittance of dues. It also can be dropped into the P.O.A. drop box in the recreation center on Paradise. If it is more convenient, board members or Liaison Committee members can accept it. A membership card will be delivered personally in the above instances.
The original membership card consisted of a white, two-fold, four-sided card which accommodated both annual and monthly payment of dues over a period of several years. Membership cards now are issued annually. The color of the card is changed each year and features a facsimile of our corporate seal and a shadowed overlay of the membership year.
Until such time as the P.O.A. was approved to meet in the club house in April 1980, meetings were held at the Presbyterian Church in Weirsdale. Social functions and installations of officers and board members were held at the American Cheerleading Academy (A.C.A.) in Fruitland Park. The A.C.A. now is known as the American Christian Academy.
We meet in the recreation center on Paradise at 7:30 P.M. on the third Wednesday of the month on a year-round basis. Speakers or special programs follow a brief business session. Refreshments are available after each meeting affording an opportunity to meet and become better acquainted with fellow residents and members.
Every effort is made to schedule speakers on subjects of interest to property owners, and suggestions are always welcome. We also attempt to anticipate and meet the changing needs of our community and its residents.
In May 1978, we began circulating a publication to all residents in Units 1-13. Not just to members. It was entitled NEWS and was published monthly until 1989 when the summer months were eliminated. Informational material is distributed during these months if residents need to be informed of an important matter.
The title was changed to BULLETIN in 1989. Size and format were changed in 1990 to provide needed additional space for information. We continue to deliver to every household in Units 1-13 and now include delivery to those property owners in the new units as they become members.
Acting on the suggestion of a member, an addressed envelope with a membership form was inserted into the December 1994 issue. This convenient way for residents to join, or to renew/reinstate' memberships was well received and will be an annual feature.
Additions to the back cover in 1995 included a "Profile of P.O.A. Members" and membership form changes. Space was added for the property closing date in the event it becomes necessary to determine service provided to that time. Space was added for a second mailing address for those members who wish to be contacted regarding important developments while they are "back home."
For the convenience of all residents, the names and phone numbers of members of the Board of Directors, other officers, members of our Liaison Committee, and chairpersons of our standing committees are listed on the front cover of the bulletin.
The Board of Directors is elected by members and is composed of four officers and nine members-at-large. Appointed officers include a Chaplain, Parliamentarian, and a Sergeant-at-Arms.
A Liaison Committee consisting of a representative of each of the original 13 units was formed many years ago. Representation has been increased to include a member-at-large from Sumter County and a member-at-large for Units 14-21. We hope to have representation from each of the new units in the near future.
The purpose of the committee is to provide a contact at the unit level for residents to consult regarding any problem they are facing. Often advice based on the committee knowledge and experience will result in a solution. If it becomes apparent a number of our residents are facing the same problem, it will be referred to the Board of Directors for consideration.
Meetings of the P.O.A. are open to all property owners except at meetings where elections and/or bylaws amendments are scheduled for votes. A membership card is required for admittance to these meetings.
Meetings of the Board of Directors and the liaison Committee are open to members. The locations, times and dates of all three meetings are published in the bulletin.
A schedule of meetings of the VCCDD (Village Center Community Development District) and of the V.C.D.D. #1 (Village Community Development District #1) also is listed. Those are quasi-governmental agencies and their meetings are, by law, open to the public. Residents are encouraged to attend.
Many of our original standing committees are still in existence because they deal with ongoing activities and needs of our community. Special committees are created from time to time as special needs arise
Only one standing committee has had to be discontinued. The Sunshine Committee sent get well and sympathy cards to residents for many years until the growth of our community precluded carrying out this assignment.
A special committee was created with a view to assisting residents who, for examples needed transportation to doctors or to conduct business. It also was prepared to provide information and direction to agencies which were available to iced assistance and advice in specific matters
It soon became apparent this committee also could be discontinued due to the nature of our community where friends and neighbors and fellow members of churches and organizations were meeting these needs.
Unfortunately, it became necessary to form a Negotiating Committee when reductions in services were attempted by imposition of fees where free services had been a condition of sale or by covenants (deed restrictions).
Following the provisions of Chapter 713, this committee made every effort to resolve these matters by negotiation and mediation in meetings with representatives of the developer. (The out-come can be found under the listing of P.O.A. achievements.)
The P.O.A. was the first organization formed to represent or property owners. Management wavered between acceptance and rejection. Then, in a meeting with Cars Morse in 1985, officers were informed management no longer would recognize the P.O.A. as the spokesman for residents. At the time this was publicly announced, management also voiced its support of the newly formed Community Improvement Council (C.l.C.).
During this times the developer undertook to “buy back” memberships by reimbursement of dues, but only a very few accepted his offer. His next strategy was to personally nay for two-month memberships of residents who formed the slate of candidates in the previously mentioned attempt to take over our organization.
Meetings with management representatives to solve minor problems before they became major conflicts were suspended. A return to this arrangement has since been resumed with the designation of an employee to act as liaison between the P.O.A. and management. We hope productive cooperation will result.
A perfect example of early cooperative efforts was the establishment of a fire house on the premises. Gary Morse acknowledged the P.O.A.’s efforts to raise the funds for this project by financing construction; and $7,000 of the money contributed by members was, at his suggestion, used for furnishings. (A new ordinance created the Northwest Fire District of Lake County, and the fire house was converted to the present ambulance station.)
P.O.A. ACHIEVEMENTS TO DATE
A Plead Bank Program was established in 1979 through our arrangement with the Leesburg Blood Bank. Donations from residents and employees are credited to our account making units available to them free of charge. (Many insurance plans only pick up reimbursement after the first, three units.)
Early donations were made at the Barnett Dank in Leesburg or at the Blood Bank near Lake Square Dal. Eventually their bloodmobile came to the Gardens on a regularly scheduled basis,
Now known as the Central Florida Blood hank, a MW office of the Lake County Branch has been established in the courtyard on LaGrande Boulevard. Donations can or made on Mondays (11 A. M. to 7 P.M.) or on Thursdays (9 A.M. to 5 P.M.). Donors may request credit be given, to our account. (Plan 961)
We arranged for the services of a resident nurse to check blood pressure free of charge. Two members kept oxygen on hand for a number of wears for the emergency needs of residents.
We recommended the Vial of Life program in 1981 and again in 1993. Providing medication and health problem information can be essential to EMTs in an emergency. It is suggested residents who have Living Wills should add a copy to other contents of the vial.
Information and supplies for this important program have always been available to take County residents through the office of the Lake County Sheriff. Since Sumter County does not have a Vial of Life program, we contacted Lake County Sheriff Knupp and he has agreed to make supplies and information available to our neighbors in Sumter County.
Earlier achievements included the addition of a much needed separate voting precinct, the first survey of residents for their opinions regarding services, raising $800 for equipment for our volunteer firemen, and establishing the first Neighborhood Watch.
Although the P.O.A. has never relished the possibility or a need for solving problems by litigation, there have been a few times when solutions could not have been achieved without resorting to legal action.
It was with a petition to the Public Service Commission (PSC) plus the services of an attorney that we were able to obtain refunds and savings for residents regarding their monthly water and sewer rates.
In another instance, litigation with the PSC resolved the matter of water-sewer tap-in fees for re-sales.
The services of our attorney were required in order to assist buyers from Texas to obtain refunds when homes placed on lots were not those ordered.
Litigation resolved the matter of continuing maintenance contracts to buyers of resales.
A prior brief reference was made to imposition of fees for services which previously had been provided free of charge. An explanation and resolution of these problems are as follows:
In 1989, a trail fee was imposed for those golfers playing the Silver Lake and Hilltop executive courses. Advertisements in nationally circulated magazines had specified “FREE GOLF FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. NO TRAIL FEE.” This had been an inducement to buy for many residents in Units 1-13.
Other reductions in services involved fees imposed for the storage of RVs and, in some instances, for cable TV and garbage (trash) pick up which had been a part of the sales package for some residents in the original development.
Reductions in services are contestable under Chapter 723 which provides for negotiation and mediation by our Negotiating Committee with representatives of the developer. When these attempts were unsuccessful, our membership approved litigation as the only possible means of resolving these problems.
Legal counsel was obtained and the two parties of the class action suit reached agreement on February 4 1991 with settlement by court approved mediation effective as of April 9, 1991. Terms of the settlement "grandfathered' affected residents from payment of the fees based on their property closing dates as follows:
Trail fee - July 1, 1989 - free annual trail fee stickers and a refund of fees paid in 1991.
RV storage - September 1, 1988 - free storage was restored in an unsecured area as long as 10 residents use it,
Garbage (trash) pickup and cable TV - free service was restored as of October 1, 1993, to those residents who closed after December 31, 1990 and before March 14, 1991.
Other terms of the settlement were as follows: No free service is to be provided to any person who agreed, by contract or other document, to pay for the service. No person outside of Units 1 through 8 is entitled to receive free basic one hook-up cable TV. No person outside of Units I through 12 is entitled to receive free garbage (trash) pickup.
At the same time, the developer agreed to discontinue renting the recreation center club house to outsiders, but the P.O.A. was not opposed to non-resident use for charitable purposes.
Contributors to our legal fund were reimbursed in full upon receipt of payment of attorney fees and court costs.
Approximately 2,000 residents within a specified boundary received notice from the developer In 1990 of a class action suit seeking relief from certain deed restrictions on two counts.
The P.O.A. was asked to look into the matter and determined the request of the first count to clear lot titles was valid.
The second count however, sought permission to modify deed restrictions which was unacceptable. The P.O.A. intervened as a party to the suit In behalf of the residents. As a result, the developer dropped this part of the suit and provisions of existing deed restrictions were protected from change.
It should he noted the P.O.A. undertook resolution of these problems in behalf of all affected residents. Thus, non-members as well as members benefited from the results in some cases.
The subject of home delivery of mail was brought to our attention from time to time. Although there was little hope of obtaining it, we took a survey in 1992 to determine how many residents wanted it. With only 1,400 responses, no further action will be taken except to assist any resident who is physically unable to pick up mail and may be entitled to home delivery.
At a meeting of the F.M.O. (Federation of Mobile Home Owners of Florida, Inc.), officers learned of the potential problem with "gray pipe" connectors. Forms were made available to residents enabling them to apply for and receive free replacement plumbing and to be reimbursed for prior plumbing repairs.
In 1993, it became necessary to resolve the matter of the eligibility of residents to continue receiving free trail fee stickers when moving from one home to another.
Approval in 1985 of the use of our streets for golf carts made it possible for residents who are dependent on them for transportation to use them for shopping, mail pickup, doctor and business appointments, etc.
With expansion of the commercial area and the addition of golf courses on the west side of the highway, residents wanted golf cart access to the facilities on either side.
The P.O.A, V.H.A. and C.I.C. joined forces to petition for a highway crossing. The developer recognized the need for such a crossing and obtained approval to build the existing golf cart bridge. Now residents can cross the highway legally and safely.
A Legislative Committee was formed to review current laws affecting home/property owner associations in subdivisions and legislation being proposed by the F.M.O.
The committee also was charged with furthering efforts for introduction of legislation requiring developers to be accountable to residents on an annual basis regarding both the income and expenditure of funds collected from them for the maintenance of recreational facilities and common grounds.
With the cooperation of members of other home/property owner associations, bills were introduced in 1994 to require developers to be accountable but failed to pass. Senator Karen Johnson sponsored a bill in 1995 which provided for the desired accountability. The bill was enacted into law and went into effect on October 1st.
The first of our annual Two-Ball Scramble Golf Tournaments was held in November 1994, Proceeds of $640 were donated to Lake County (Association for Retarded Citizens) which was adopted by the P.O.A. in 1993 as its charitable project. The money will be used for the children's program.
We assisted and supported residents on Paradise Drive in a successful petition opposing an entrance from it to the LRMC Office Park project on highway 27-441. We also supported owners of property adjoining Paradise Lake in their opposition to annexation of the lake into the town by the town commission.
Through Town Manager Bob McKee, we learned the company managing the water and sewer utilities (the former Sunbelt Utilities) would check, flush, repair and paint fire hydrants beginning in Unit Three. (Lake Paradise provides the water for fire suppression for other residents.)
The Board of Directors learned a C.D.D. (Community Development District) was considering buying the recreational facilities and had received the approval of the developer. We exercised our right of first refusal under the provisions of Chapter 723, but the developer was only interested in selling to a C.D.D.
The P.O.A. President voiced concerns about the lack of resident representation on the C.D.D. Board of Supervisors, the use of amenity fees to retire bonds, and the listing of acquisition items which included non-recreational facilities.
While we are understandably proud of our achievements of the past 20 years, our purpose in relating them has been to point out what can be accomplished when people pull together. With the power of our mutual convictions and the strength of membership numbers, the P.O.A. will continue its efforts in your behalf in the future.
* * * * * * * *
Celebration of our twentieth anniversary included entertainment, refreshments and door prizes. Two beautiful prizes (a sand lamp and a porcelain doll) were donated by members. The lamp went to the winner of our slogan contest, and the doll was won in the raffle. Annual election results were announced when they became available. This publication was offered for sale to members.
P.O.A. PAST PRESIDENTS
1975 – 1995
RALPH VAN KLEECK
* CLENN SWINDLER
* ARTHUR SMITH
* EVA HAWKINS
WILLIAM RICH JR.
* Elected to more than one term.
WE ARE DEEPLY INDEBTED TO THESE MEN AND WOMEN WHO VOLUNTARILY ACCEPTED THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP FOR THE BENEFIT OF US ALL **********************************************************************************
Joe Gorman's Reflections On
His 9 Years as POA President
I have been fortunate over these past nine years to see the growth of the POA as a valued advocate for Residents' Rights and as a trusted information source in The Villages. I can't claim all the credit for our accomplishments because many fellow POA members helped to make it happen. So, in many respects, I have been just an observer of fellow residents trying to make The Villages a better place in which to live. I think we succeeded to a great degree. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent my fellow Villagers as your president for these nine years.
Perhaps it is worthwhile to review some of the accomplishments of your POA over these past nine years:
Organizational Comments - First of all, some organizational comments:
Mission Statement and Residents' Bill of Rights - Nine years ago I felt that residents didn't have a good idea of what the POA was or what it stood for. So, we developed the Mission Statement and the Residents' Bill of Rights which we proudly publish in every issue of the Bulletin on page 2. In a nutshell, we stand for Residents' Rights.
The POA and the VHA - Residents on a continuing basis need to understand the difference between the POA and the VHA. Hopefully, we made the distinction. The VHA was started by the developer and it is unlikely that it will ever take a Residents Rights position on any issue that is contrary to the will or interests of the developer. The POA is independent and has no ties to the developer which would compromise our ability to speak out for the best interests of residents.
Budget - The POA budget in 2001 was about $6,000 with negative cash flow. We had about $1,000 in the bank and unpaid bills of about $1,500 in 2002 when I became president. Today the budget stands at about $100,000 with positive cash flow and ample cash reserves in the bank. We are not yet financially secure, but we are in better shape financially than ever.
Bulletin - We computerized the Bulletin in my first year. We expanded it from 4 pages in 2002 pages to the 20 pages we have today. The operation now has a budget of about $70,000 and advertising is covering a larger share of expenses than ever. We made huge strides in attracting advertising to the Bulletin. This alone pays a significant portion of the Bulletin,s expenses.
Membership - At the end of 2001, POA membership stood at about 600, probably stagnant, most likely declining. Now it stands at about 7,000. People seem to recognize and appreciate our efforts on their behalf.
Hall of Fame - We established the Hall of Fame to honor those who went before and made a significant contribution to the POA. We have inducted 16 into the Hall.
Website - A few years into my administration, we made our appearance on the internet with our own website (www.poa4us.org). The Bulletin is displayed there each month and the Archives section displays the Bulletin back to 2002.
Legal Action Fund - We started a Legal Action Fund to give us the flexibility to pursue legal actions when necessary. Villagers made generous contributions. The Fund was a critical resource in 2007 and 2008 when it was used to pay some of the legal expenses in the 2008 Lawsuit settlement with the developer.
Discount Partners - We started this feature of the Bulletin as a way of offering additional benefits to our members. The listing has grown to more than 75 Partners over the years.
Board of Directors - A total of 43 directors helped me with the POA business over the years. Thanks to all of them for their dedication and support. Today, the POA has one of the strongest and most qualified Boards it has ever had. In this respect, I am thankful that I can leave the POA in good hands with Elaine Dreidame as president, Bill Garner as Vice-President, and a top-notch Board.
My Organizational Mentors - Thanks especially to Russ Day for his guidance in my early years. Also, thanks to Win Shook, Carole Kopp, Frank Renner, and Elaine Dreidame.
Accomplishments - Listed below are some of the notable accomplishments of the POA over the nine years. Throughout all of these issues, projects, and accomplishments, we always focused on straight talk and what was best for all Villagers.
The Lawsuit Settlement - Villagers achieved a friendly class action lawsuit settlement with the developer in 2008 valued at $43 million. The key points of the settlement were: Provision for Reserve funds for eventual repair and replacement of our facilities north of Hwy. 466; provision for renovation of the recreation trails north of Hwy 446; creation of the AAC (Amenity Authority Committee) which allows residents elected by residents to make decisions about the expenditure of amenity funds north of Hwy. 466; and payoff of the Paradise Recreation Center renovation debt.
Defeat of the Sumter County Hospital Tax - We opposed the creation of this taxing district which would have taxed Sumter County residents about $200-$300 per home for use by our hospital and also given 20% of the tax off the top to the developer's foundation.
Expansion of the Hospital - After the defeat of the Sumter Hospital Tax, the owner of our hospital, the Leesburg Regional Medical Center, said it would delay construction of the expansion. We called this morally wrong to delay expansion of our life-saving hospital. After a series of hard-hitting stories in the Bulletin, LRMC finally relented and proceeded with the expansion.
Hospital Emergency Room - We noticed continuing poor service and performance in our hospital's ER over the years. We documented over 125 instances of serious problems in the ER. We publicized the problems. In response, LRMC brought in a new CEO of the hospital, a new director of the ER, dedicated more resources and staff to the ER, hired more nurses, established better training programs, and brought in three Villagers to sit on the Board of the hospital's parent organization.
Moffitt Cancer Center - We advocated bringing this cancer center to The Villages for what we believed would be one of the crown jewels in the medical facilities of The Villages. We organized a letter-writing program, researched the demographics, argued for bringing the center here, and voiced our hopes to the appropriate decision-makers.
Vinyl Siding - Sloppy work and installation procedures characterized the building effort of the contractors for homes in The Villages south of Hwy 466 in the 2005-2008 time period. Credit has to go to Ray Micucci and his wife Lori for spearheading the inspection of over 1,500 homes and prodding the work of the warranty department and various contractors to repair the problems.
Activity Policy Reversal - The Center Districts voted to restrict residents from gathering to protest anything. A liability insurance policy for $1 million was also required 30 days in advance of any protest gathering. The POA opposed this action, calling it a violation of our Constitutional Rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly, and argued against it in the Bulletin. The Center Districts backed down and rescinded the rule.
Paradise Center - The original recreation center on the east side of Hwy 441/27 was deteriorating and an absolute disgrace. We did a survey, organized residents, pleaded with the VCCDD to renovate the center, advocated renovation in the Bulletin, and were eventually successful in getting this $5 million project off the ground.
IRS/Bonds - We are waiting on this one. But, what we did do was caution restraint rather than wild speculation, and we identified the developer as the only one to benefit financially from the issuance of the bonds as tax exempt. If we get the negative outcome, we trust that the developer will do what is necessary to protect residents from any adverse impact.
Performing Arts Center - We began advocating for this center early in 2010 and gave this idea the publicity it needed which helped secure the support of many Villagers. We presented the facts on the undesirability of the Church on the Square as a performing arts center. We will continue our support until the dream becomes a reality.
Conflict of Interests by District Employees - We documented the fact that some Center District employees were in line to benefit financially from certain dealings with the developer. We viewed this as a conflict of interests. As a result, one Center District employee was re-assigned, and any dealing like this in the future will be scrutinized for any potential conflict of interests problems.
Forgotten $200,000 Billing - Somehow or another, a VCCDD bill to the developer for about $200,000 for expenses related to his use of the Savannah Center was never issued. A POA director, Irving Yedwab, noticed the problem and we publicized the situation in the Bulletin. The developer did pay up once the bill was issued.
Sexual Offended Database - We published the State of Florida Sexual Offender Database for our area in the Bulletin and brought it to our meetings for review. Some opposed this move; but, we felt it appropriate to publicize names and addresses so that residents could judge for themselves how best to react to any nearby offenders.
Purchase of Common Property - The then District Manager also thought it unnecessary to publish details explaining the various common property purchases by the Center Districts from the developer. We analyzed many of these deals and published detailed explanations in the Bulletin. Unfortunately, the District Manager's reluctance to publish details has caused huge misunderstandings on the part of residents which continue to confuse to this day.
Center District Financial Statements - We were the first organization to publish the financial statements of the two Center Districts. Prior to that the District Manager said that it was not important to provide that information for residents. Thankfully, the Center Districts now routinely publish this information and includes it on their website (www.districtgov.org).
Bob Evans Restaurant - The developer wanted to build a Bob Evans restaurant on the east side of Hwy. 441/27. He used a heavy-handed approach with near-by residents to try to force them to approve a zoning change from residential to commercial. We publicized the issue in the Bulletin and the local opposition to this plan. The developer finally relented and the restaurant was located on Hwy. 466.
Violence on the Squares - We reported in the Bulletin on several instances of violence on the Squares. As a result, Center District administration worked with local law enforcement to provide a heightened law enforcement presence on the Squares.
POA Surveys - We conducted five Surveys through the Bulletin over the years detailing attitudes about life in The Villages. Some of the actions were later addressed by the developer and the Center Districts.
Wind Mitigation - We publicized the details of this state program to save residents literally hundreds of dollars annually on their home insurance for older homes.
Disappointments - Unfortunately, the POA has not succeeded in some endeavors over the years. Here's a listing of some of the more notable:
VHA - One of my hopes over the years was that the POA and the VHA merge to form one property owners' association. If the VHA had been willing to commit to the concept of Residents' Rights we thought there might be a chance of succeeding. We made several approaches to the VHA but were rebuffed each time.
Closing of the Clubs - The developer closed the Silverlake and the Chula Vista clubs over the opposition of the POA. The POA, under the direction of Bill Garner our new Vice President, organized residents to picket the sales office on both Squares trying to prevent the closing of the Chula Vista club. But, we were not successful.
Valuation of Common Property - We always felt that the valuation of the developer's property when sold to the Center Districts was too high and the estimates of operating expenses too low. We asked for a suspension of the sales until a proper valuation formula could be worked out, but the VCCDD never agreed.
Disclosure Reform - We presented Disclosure Reform language to the Florida legislature on several occasions, but this legislation never got anywhere. The details are presented on our website for review.
The Patron Program - We never liked the idea of the LifeLong Learning Center setting up a Patron Program for a fee which allowed Patron members to get a lower charge for classes in Villages facilities. We viewed this as bribery by the well-off to get a lower charge than those not-so-well-off. And, this lower fee was for using Villages facilities that our monthly amenity fee already paid for. We publicized this and tried to get it changed, but we were not successful. Save the Buffalo - Would that we could act but, we couldn't. We tried.
Summary - Well, it's been a great nine years. Actually, ten if you count the partial year in which I was the POA Secretary. We have had some successes and some disappointments. But, I trust that we made a positive impact on the lives and well-being of all residents in The Villages.
I will be up north for the summer, but here for the other months. I still plan to be involved with the POA. I'll see you at the general meetings. In the meantime, please continue to support your POA. And, keep smiling....
YEARS 2011 - 2019
Still in process